Finding no grounds to proceed, the Crown has closed the file on Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz. It will not continue with charges brought by a private citizen alleging improprieties under the Municipal Elections Act (MEA).
Crown prosecutor Fraser Kelly presented his reasoning Wednesday morning to Justice of the Peace Bruce Phillips in a Kitchener courtroom. Kelly was brought in from London, Ont. to avoid any appearance of conflict from local prosecutors given that Shantz serves on Waterloo Region council.
The ten charges were initially brought against Shantz by Elmira resident Alan Marshall last summer, alleging election donation fraud, misreporting of funds and incorrect filing of official election campaign financial documents under the MEA.
Attorney Trevor Loughborough appeared as agent in court for Shantz.
In a statement later Wednesday, Shantz says she is relieved the case is over.
“I am very pleased with the decision of the Crown to withdraw all the charges today,” she said. “Staff have had to confer with professionals particularly with respect to the MECAC matter, and have spent a considerable amount of their time dealing with Mr. Marshall and his ongoing antics. This is a blatant misuse of the legal system; of the intent of the law, and takes away energy, money and time that should be better spent on Township business. I am glad the courts will be able to focus on more pressing issues.”
After reviewing the case, Kelly determined that there was no reasonable prospect of prosecution, and in some cases, the charges weren’t even criminal.
“After receiving the file, and reviewing all of the information, the material wasn’t particularly helpful. There are no certified documents and there are no witness statements, but there was a sufficient chronology,” he told the court. “I have assessed the private prosecution, and my intention today is to withdraw it.”
Marshall was not pleased with the Crown’s rationale. He said the decision shows that prosecutors are not taking election legislation seriously, setting a bad example for other politicians and elected officials.
“I must have missed the overnight announcement that the province has repealed the Municipal Elections Act,” he said in a prepared statement. “If the Crown advises that the specific laws broken by Mayor Shantz are minor or trivial, then again, clearly I missed that part of the MEA which specifically stated that … [they]… are trivial or minor and therefore merely suggestions to be followed by election candidates, if they feel like it.”
Kelly presented a timeline and went through each individual charge against Shantz, explaining why he decided to withdraw. He also cited the previous decisions by the Municipal Elections Compliance Audit Committee (MECAC) in late 2015 that Shantz had committed no malicious wrongdoing, along with Marshall’s decision not to appeal the ruling.
Shantz was charged with failing to account for all finances and services, which Kelly said was laid under the improper section of the MEA, but he still would have withdrawn it.
The Woolwich mayor was also charged with misrepresenting her spending during her election in an amount that Kelly described as “nominal.”
Election donations were also on the docket, where Marshall alleged that Shantz had accepted donations exceeding the $750 limit. It was determined that the donations in question were below the limit, but could be seen as related. Regardless, Kelly said, “Shantz did what was required of her to do” in returning the donations.
Other charges, such as the mayor’s late filing of her expense report, not asking for an extension through the courts and filing the wrong documents were seen as provable, but according to Kelly, “not in the public interest,” to proceed on.
“She followed all the subsequent steps,” he said.
The matter has been before the courts since July 2015 when Shantz was served a default notice for failing to file her expense report on time. She was removed from office until reinstated by a judge. Following the MECAC proceedings, Marshall continued to pursue recourse in the courts through to this week’s appearance.